Centre? Left wing? Connor Zary's versatility should make him an option at both

While playing left wing feels like a ‘natural fit’ for Connor Zary, being at centre might be a part of his future with the Calgary Flames.

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Connor Zary will play centre again at some point.

He started the game in the middle on Monday afternoon when the Calgary Flames beat the Winnipeg Jets but only lasted a few short shifts before moving back to the wing next to Nazem Kadri and Martin Pospisil.

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By his own admission, being back with the linemates with whom he’s spent most of the season felt immediately like a “natural fit.”

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But being at centre may very well be a big part of Zary’s future with the Flames.

And if that’s part of the team’s plan for him, he’s up for it.

“It’s something I’ve done before,” Zary said. “It’s obviously been quite a while and it’s a pretty big adjustment. I only played a few shifts there so it’s hard to really say, but it’s something that, if needed, I pride myself on trying to be a versatile player.

“I’ve played so much left wing and have played so much with Naz and Posp. … Right when I went back there, right away I felt great again.”

Chances are, Zary will spend most of the rest of the season at left wing. The chemistry between himself and Kadri and Pospisil has made them arguably the Flames’ best line.

But since the team traded Elias Lindholm to the Vancouver Canucks during their all-star break, they’ve arguably been short a centre for their first line.

They’d moved Yegor Sharangovich to the spot vacated by Lindholm and he’d performed well, but chose to give Zary a shot on Monday.

It didn’t last long, but it showed that head coach Ryan Huska believes the 22-year-old can play at centre if needed.

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Calgary Flames coach Ryan Huska
Flames coach Ryan Huska during Calgary Flames training camp at the Saddledome in Calgary on Thursday, September 21, 2023. Jim Wells/Postmedia

Ability to play multiple positions definitely an asset

“We’ve used him on the right side, too, this year. He plays left, he plays on the right and he will get other opportunities to play in the middle again,” Huska said. “I go back to playing in the American League, he got a taste of both professionally, and that’s such an important thing for a young player to be able to go through that stuff, so when you want to be used or need to be used in a situation here, you’re a little bit ready for it.

“I think he’s been one of those guys for us this year, I think it’s always important to always have a lot of guys who are centres on your roster so you have the ability to move people around. Connor naturally was a centreman, he’s been playing the wing for the last little while but you don’t lose those instincts.”

At this point, Zary just wants to show that he can play wherever his team and his coaches need him. Versatility is something he’s clearly proud of, and being able to play in multiple positions is definitely an asset for a young guy trying to fully establish himself as an everyday NHLer.

Of course, Zary has probably already done that when you consider that he’s scored 12 goals and added 14 assists while being a plus-16 through 46 games this year. Nobody is complaining about his contributions in his rookie season.

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But if he proves he’s an option at centre, that’s all the better for the Flames.

In Huska’s eyes, you can never have too many guys who can play that position.

“A lot of times guys that are centremen are geared a little bit differently where they understand that they have to be responsible defensively a little bit more because they always work with their d-men a lot in their own zone,” Huska said. “They have to be trusted in the middle of the ice.

“If you ask a centreman they’ll tell you they’re the smartest guys on the team, but they have just a real good understanding of different areas of the game as compared to a winger that typically would just go up and down as well.”

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